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Monday, 21 July 2014


Here, in the tropics, it is not easy to keep prints in good condition for long, unless one spends a lot of time and money on air conditioning and humidity control. Most of my old prints, black and white included, have deteriorated into useless mass of paper and stuff.
The question of ability to open and see the digital pictures in the future is a serious one that has to be addressed. Will we have the software or the hard ware to open the tiff files or even jpeg files?
Will any of the current file formats be popular 50 years from now? Or will they face the same fate as that of floppy disks, audio cassettes and vinyls?
Ranjit Grover India.

Another thing you may want to consider is a small fireproof safe. Not just any old "fireproof" safe, but a media safe with a 125 UL testing for 1hr. And they're not cheap...

Gordon, as the self appointed family archivist, I've thought long and hard on this. My solution is briefly thus:

1. Scan negs and prints at high resolution (1200dpi).
2. Add identifying metadata and do a rough clean-up in Lightroom.
3. Create at least three backups.
4. Create medium and low res versions of the images for sharing.

So far so good. There are two problems with this:

1. It will probably take me 20 years to do all this.
2. How do I share the results with extended family and friends?

One potential answer to (2) is to upload all the images to the cloud and then build a website to enable family/ friends to search via metadata and download as they wish. I hope I live to see it finished.

A good start would be to store the images on the M-DISC Blue-ray.

FYI, Kodak PhotoCD image files can be opened with this program:


Sniff, good old dog...how many of us started with the dog or cat as our first subject, the only one that would pose for us..

"Will Your Photos Outlast You?"
Good question, Gordon. Yes, owing to where a very few prints of my photographs have landed I am confident they'll long survive me.

But I also know that images can, indeed, must, also survive in public memory. One of my principal definitions of a "good picture" (whether it's a photo, a painting, or drawing) is its ability to leave an indelible tattoo in a viewer's memory. For example, this summer the Art Institute of Chicago is hosting a large show of René Magritte's surreal paintings. As a boy of 9 or 10 I recall being mesmerized by Magritte's "Time Transfixed". Even if I had not visited it many, many times at the museum my first encounter with it left a lifelong tattoo in my memory. It looks just as fresh and mesmerizing to my 60 year-old eyes in the current show as it did to that little boy's eyes so long ago. Although I do not own that painting, or even a print, it has long survived Magritte's lifetime in my memory.

Today, and throughout this year, I have the wonderful good fortune to be able to watch people viewing some of my photography in a very public and completely free setting. Unlike the hushed environment of an art museum where objects are presented in nervously precious settings my images, and those of a dozen or so colleagues, are printed very non-preciously with weather-proof pigments on 4-foot Dibond panels. No frames, no glass, no barriers, no alarms, no nervous scowling guards. It's simply a pricelessly superb experience for me, worth far more than any museum or gallery show.

People of all ages can (and do!) walk right up to the images and touch them. They can point-out details to their friends. They can argue, they can holler, they can squeal. They can cut underneath and look at the images on the other side.

I have to believe that such a free experience with my photographs will help to ensure that one or two survive me in viewers' memories. Perhaps, for example, these children will remember my images when they're 60, long after these panels have been destroyed just as I remember Magritte's paintings. Perhaps.

That's how I want my photographs to "outlast" me, Gordon.

I started doing darkroom work in 1968, so we're close to contemporary on that. Then or very shortly thereafter, "archival processing" was the big thing. Don't over-fix, use hypo clearing agent, wash in properly turbulent washers for the right length of time, etc. I did that fairly enthusiastically (and reasonably carefully) and it does seem to have worked rather well. Over 40 years later! (Down to 30 years later; haven't had my own darkroom since 1986).

I'm surprised you can't access Photo CDs. All the ones I had made, the original disks are still readable. (Minor problem with Adobe not supporting the file format any more though; but other software does.)

My description of digital archives is that they're "brittle". A properly-managed digital archive can be near-eternal, since multiple copies properly located can protect you from anything up to local volcanic eruptions. However, digital media just sitting around under conditions of "benign neglect" does relatively poorly.

As a science-fiction fan, the idea of my photos lasting "forever" was never in the cards. I mean, heat death of the universe, and all that.

I suspect that the ones that actually outlast me by the greatest amount will be some of the ones I've released under Creative Commons license and see used on lots of websites. One of the more recent Heinlein photos (1976) out there is mine, and it's used on Wikipedia and isfdb and even Letters of Note when Heinlein comes up. The thing that will really keep photos available is people caring about them.

Currently all of my digital images reside on a hard drive with a backup on a second drive. That's the good news.

The bad news is they've been hauled from OS to OS, between multiple computers, through multiple image management systems, and only some of them are even remotely organized. Some really early digital stuff is MIA because of this.

The worse news is that the computer I use for the digital stuff soiled its smalls a week ago. All the data is there but the computer is as dead as a can of spam. An unexpected expense which isn't budgeted for and won't be for a while.

The couple of hundred rolls of 35mm and 120 I've shot in the last 5 years are, by contrast, readily available and well organized; I started out with good intent and haven't messed with the filing system too much. So are the prints and contact sheets I've made in the last year.

I definitely do a better job of keeping things organized when they're physical, tangible objects. Files on hard disc are a bit too easy to just store and forget.

A recently unearthed shoebox full of Kodachrome slides from the early and mid-1970s has turned out to be quite a source -- despite having kicked around in garages in four states over 40 years, most of that time unprotected in a projector carousel.

Once the nits, grits, and dead bugs have been retouched away in Photoshop (welded on, could not physically remove) the images held up well.

$150 Epson V500 scanner, recommended by Kirk Tuck, made it easy.

Michael Matthews

If you're backing up digital photographs it's not enough to simply do the backup and forget about it. You also need to test and validate your backups regularly. Delete a file (or move it) and use the recover feature. Try to restore files on a new computer or new drive. Do full backups regularly. Incremental backups often get confused.

I make it a point to print out a few images every week to add to my "archive". I figure the hard drives will be in a landfill before the printed images.

It kills me to make all these prints and leave them in storage. But where to put them all? And what about the cost of FRAMES?? I'd love to hand out framed prints to friends and family by the boat load, but framing is so damned expensive, and I hate to give someone the gift of a print without a frame.

Personally, I don't care what happens when I am dead, but if my family and friends want to keep and review my digital images, its a lot less inconvenient for them than the pile of shoe-boxes I had in the cupboard.

The trouble with any negative, slide or print is that it's much harder to copy and preserve as it ages. How many archives were lost to fire over the years?

Might be an appropriate place for a mention of (or for the Ed to link to) Ctein's book:

Digital Restoration from Start to Finish: How to repair old and damaged photographs

Digital images are really quite fragile. I unfortunately lost about 3 months worth of photos (and some of my better wildlife work) to a hard drive failure (actually a RAID-controller failure). I had 2 off-site backup disks. One was fully up to date and the other was 3 months out of date. I took out the fully up to date disk and started to recover my files when my dog came running into the room like a maniac, tripped on the usb cable and hauled the disk to the floor. Then I had 2 dead disks and a 3 months out of date backup. :-(

Most of the files could probably be recovered by professionals - but it is very costly. I still have the disks in case I decide to do so, but it isn't likely.

The moral of the story is lock the door when restoring your files from your backup disk (or make sure you have 2 fully up to date backups I suppose).

There are many, many ways to lose your files and it takes a well thought out backup strategy to protect yourself well. Everything eventually becomes obsolete so you constantly need to be updating and each time you do there is a chance of losing something.

Yesterday I went to a local museum to see the return of John Wallis, aged 65, who had ridden his SS80 Brough Superior motorcycle around the coast of mainland Britain for charity. The SS80 will be 90 this year.

Another man brought an album of photographs to show John that was created in the 1930s, and had photos of bikes, family members and others. One of his ancestors had pursued world speed records on Brough Superiors, and this was his album. There was even a photo of George Brough, founder of the motorcycle company.

I find this sort of thing fascinating. This is why we should preserve photos. Not for ourselves, but to show others what we and our world was like. Understanding how others live or have lived can teach us so much about ourselves.

This is the link to John's site:


Does anyone know what the life expectancy is of the printing process (including paper) used in photo books, such as the one's from Blurb? The paper wouldn't be archival, of course, but what about the ink? I have many photos of my travels that aren't worth the money to print a 13 x 19 or even an 8 x 10 inkjet print but to have them printed in a photo book would be about right for them. As much as I try, I can't enjoy looking at photos on my computer.

Nope, perhaps there will be some copies preserved in NSA and Facebook servers.

And that is ok, I think, the world is full of medium grade or worse photos. So why not keep the best and forget the rest.

There are of course the slime chance, that the photo/art will get reevaluated in both directions

Storage is free. Or more correctly, hard drive storage on a desktop computer has come so far down in price that it's almost free per picture. But what if your hard drive fails and the backup catches fire?

Online storage is doing the same dive toward free. Microsoft includes one terabyte of online storage (OneDrive) per user with an Office 365 Home edition subscription. That subscription can be shared with up to four additional household members giving a total of five terabytes per household. Details here ...

Apple and Google (and Adobe?) are certain to follow because it costs little; helps attract users and locks them into their respective digital ecosystems.

I do not care what happens to my photos after I am gone. I do however care about my work while I am still here and do backups to a NAS system.

I'm planning to make prints of images i like best and I think those will last 100 year more. And I have hard drive backups of most everything but does "everything" have to be saved? Probably not. I keep hearing about people wanting to "save" all the pix dad took on family trips but really how many of them deserve preservation?

At the dawn of CDR technology in the early 90's and $20 per disc, a friend assembled a two CD set of my brother's band audio tapes. Mine are still playable. The earliest photo CDs from 2004 or 5 are failing. So far I only lost a couple images to corruption but I saved the weird look of them for the fun of it. Recently I learned that external hard drive storage will fade after about 2o years. It is magnetic and the surface charge does not last forever. At some point soon I will be looking to print all of the images for archiving purposes. Hello Canson Rag Photographique!

I like your photo of L Hopkins. If you specialize in famous musicians you might think about licensing them to Getty Images or a similar outfit. I doubt you will get rich, but doing so will give the photographs some longevity.

You might also think about registering the copyright, although there are issues which you will need to explore with a copyright lawyer given the age of the old photographs. Assuming you can overcome that hurdle, registering the photos would mean the deposited copies would be available to future generations.

You might also think about donating prints to a blues museum or foundation for their archives.

But the real answer for most of us: You are talented and are engaged in a meaningful activity. Enjoy what you do and admire your output frequently. Unfortunately those who clean up after you will pitch most of your possessions no matter how much worth you assign to it. Vivian Meyer is one of the lucky ones.

My film and digital archives are duals of one another.

The film stuff is in boxes and relatively safe from harm and just left there will probably last as long as anyone will care about them. Only no one can look at it. Except the few dozen prints I made. Which you can only see if you come to my house and I can dig them out of the closet.

The digital stuff makes it into various shared places in a timely manner. I can carry 20 years of the good pictures in my phone/iPad and show people any of them any time I want. But, the only way the archive will survive is if it continually copied from drive to drive to drive. Once you stop copying digital data, it just slowly rots away.

I should probably make JPEG files out of all of them. JPEG readers will probably be around for a long time since the entire Internet runs off of them. But the RAW files will probably be worthless in another 20 years or so. I'd think.

Finally, in response to this:

"I definitely do a better job of keeping things organized when they're physical, tangible objects. Files on hard disc are a bit too easy to just store and forget."

I'm exactly the opposite of this.

Back in the 70's, pressed for storage space, I used our apartment complex's facility, in the basement of one of the buildings. To my dismay, not realizing that it occasionally took on some water, enough to keep a rather high humidity level, when I went to retrieve my prints and negatives, they had all turned into an irretrievable gooey smelly mildewy mess. Decades of personal and family history gone forever. Lesson learned. Keep them dry.

Later, with a house and my own darkroom, I decided to get serious and get organized, so all of my negatives and slides are in pocketed plastic sheets, usually with a contact print next to it, labelled, dated, etc. (Snapshots, OTOH, I just kept in the envelope from the camera store, with the date and some descriptive information written on the envelope. And stored in a shoebox.)

Then came digital. I puzzled over how to have a "digital shoebox." Meanwhile, technology kept advancing. So, the Zip drives are of course useless, but with each computer upgrade, I've copied my image folders over to the new machine. Meanwhile, I worked out a file naming system that gets me in the ballpark for locating something, and have adopted Lightroom for cataloging. Backups occur nightly to a separate drive. Periodically, I copy the main image folder to an external drive, exchange it with its twin at the bank's safe, copy again to the one now in my hands, and store that in a media safe.

Still, I worry. And I wonder, after all that, who really cares?

If keeping family prints write details on the back of the print. We have lots pf photos from my parents and grandparents days but have trouble identifying the subjects. Your successors are really going to want to know who is that grumpy looking old man.
As we are all digital now if you can find a way of binding this info to digital images so much the better.
Personally I get most family photos printed. Who knows what the future holds for digital. (Zip drives anyone ?) and a print in the hand is worth two on a disc.

"Will Your Photos Outlast You?"
I'm already 63, so yes, for shure they will survive me.
I print mostly B&W and use K3 Epson pigments with imageprint software, which don't use the yellow pigment, which is believed that fades sooner. On the other hand, for prints I avoid as much as posible papers with brighteners and try to concentrate on rag papers such as Museo portfolio rag, which I find beautiful for some of my work. I also store photos in acid free boxes and live in an area of quite mild weather.
Regarding my slides, I have scanned most of my best Kodachromes and Velvias and have produced digital prints of some of them.

Most people use their phones for casual (or all) of their picture taking these days. I frequently encourage them to get high quality prints made of their favorites. Prints are fragile in their own right, but they're technology independent. I've been in the IT business long enough to know you can do everything right and still lose stuff.

The family album under grandma's bed has no digital equivalent.

As for me, I hope to leave some interesting trash for my heirs to throw out.

I am 74 years old and also think of posterity - for my pictures.

So far my Cibachrome prints from the 1970s still look fresh.
So do my Kodachrome slides from the 1960s. In fact I recently scanned a hundred of them for a book "Ix-Xlendi and its ancient shipwrecks".
I used to do my own B&W printing, and they still look nice.

But now it's a digital world and the question is how to lay down images for centuries. Too many to print, and Kodachrome is sadly no longer an option. On the short term, the solution is RAID drives, rewritten periodically. That will probably do for ten years. Thereafter, Sony optical disks might do a few decades. But posterity will come with DNA recording, which has been shown to work. And DNA can still be read after thousands of years. (For photo-archiving the DNA is made specially for the purpose, it is not the photogapher's, and not from any living organism.). DNA readers will always be available.


I suspect the most of my digital copies will be lost to hard drives in a closet eventually, unless perhaps I'm willing to store them on a commercial site that allows free, ad supported posthumous accounts, if there's such a thing.

As long as my personal photo books hold together they stand the biggest chance of outlasting me. People value them. That seems to be key, to create something of value and spread it around.

Gordon, how nice to hear your voice here at TOP! Thank you for the gentle nudge about photo retrieval. Although using Lightroom has facilitated keywording, and keeping an on-line journal and producing several story and photo books about our travels have helped me to do something other than dump my photos into the bottomless pit of an expanding row of hard drives, I still have a way to go until I can easily retrieve a specific photo or be confident that the memories they represent will be accessible in 20 years.
I have family snapshots from my mum's family in England from the late 1800s, and from when they arrived on the Canadian prairies in 1898; I doubt that my own will fare as well unless I get them printed.

Ken Tanaka:

I'd love to see this exhibit! Where is it, and until when?


Are photographers the only artists who expect -or who are expected- to reproduce their works at some arbitrary time in the future? What if it was our discipline to make a best quality print of our picture and then discard the negative/file?

@ Dan Gorman: The exhibit is in the North Boeing Gallery of Chicago's Millennium Park. It's part of the Park's 10th anniversary celebration and will be up until October 2015, so take your time!

I think the art of photography is being slowly lost. Just think about how easy it is for individuals to take a selfie. How can we recover from this bad photo epidemic? Personally I like old style photography, like the cameras used back during the Civil War. Those were really cool and they always looked really crisp. http://eliteprophoto.com/services/

Have you seen this?

Hitachi Invents Waterproof Glass 'Disk' That Can Store Data Forever


Gordon: Nice to "hear" your voice again. I counted myself among those who was sorry to see your web log go. There may be a plethora of photo 'blogs on the web, but it doesn't follow that they are all worth reading. Yours was . . . still is, actually. I just went over for a quick peak.

I have gone back and forth about the archive longevity issue. Last time I ranted about it, I think someone here (Ctien?) may have mentioned that the single greatest predictor of data's longevity is the number of copies out there. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I think that is a big part of the equation. That is, you can preserve your document on a very durable medium (e.g. an inscription in stone) or on a less durable medium but in multiple locations (e.g. paper copies of a book). For digital, the medium is aaaaaallll the way over on the ephemera scale. That is because digital images are at the end of an incredibly complex technological "food chain." That food chain does not have the preservation of your data inter-generationally as a goal . . . really, the fact that it can be stored and retrieved at all is more of a side-effect. On the other hand, for all its ephemera digital information can be copied endlessly at low cost. The key is, as you have alluded to, having someone to curate your ones and zeroes after you are gone. My own fantasy about this is that 300 years from now archeologists will see the beginning of the 21st century as the moment when physical records conclusively disappeared. Future archeologists will have to infer our population size from the number of Coke cans in landfills, because no actual census data will have survived. No more discoveries of a letter from the president preserved behind a portrait, . . . yadda, yadda.

Sometimes the thought-sprial goes like this: what would I need to really do to preserve a "snap shot" of my roughly 5 TB of digital data? Well first I need a really large hard drive, then I need a computer to run it (preserved under Saran Wrap . . . I dunno?), then I need an operating system for the computer, a copy of Photoshop or some other software to read the data. OK. Call it $1500 worth of tech. Then I need a place to store all this, with a print-out of all the manuals and a set of spare parts, dry and safe . . . and then the fantasy sort of crumbles as I think of the resources needed to keep all of this stuff in verifiably working order.

I am putting together a little book now of a recent family vacation . . . a present for my mother-in-law. Sometimes I think that those hard-copy keep-sakes are really all that will survive a generation. And that makes me laugh, albeit ruefully. Tens of thousands of dollars in cameras, lenses, film, enlargers, computers, scanners, printers and ink and what I will have to show for it a generation hence is a few books of pictures of the kids jumping on motel beds and standing in front of national park signs identifying the continental divide. You have got to laugh.

My own first/earliest negatives -- from the 1980's in my case -- are sitting in binders over my shoulder on a shelf. The file-by-date in the order taken "system" has served me well enough for the last 30 years. I won't claim a 5-minute find-time. . . but half an hour would do it for a particular image.

Thanks for a thought-provoking read.

I agree with you, Gordon (as I always do): despite its inherent vulnerability to fire and water, paper is stille THE everlasting photography medium par excellence.
Inkjet self-printing is very far from being hassle-free, but there are online printing services out there that make a cost effective inkjet or Lightjet job on demand.
A cheapest way, which I strongly suggest, is having self-published books printed by online services like Blurb. Their quality is increasing every day, and their cost-hassle-effectiveness-durability-readability balance is top notch IMHO.
Have a dozen of copies of your book(s) printed and present your friends, children and grand-children with them. They will most likely be browsed for a long time ahead. Even after Mother Nature's duty has been fulfilled.

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